Town receives $4.5 million in federal COVID recovery funds

Thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the Town of Pulaski now has some $4.5 million in grant funds to be used for particular purposes as outlined by the federal government.

Town Manager Darlene Burcham told council on Tuesday that the federal government has been very specific about the uses of the money, which is being made available in response to economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic.

She noted the funds are not part of the town’s operating budget, but will be appropriated as a separate grant fund.

“As we get further guidance as to its uses, we’ll break down the ARPA grant into four specific areas that are identified in the legislation,” Burcham said.

She noted there is a heavy emphasis in the legislation on infrastructure, but limits that infrastructure to water, waste water and storm water.

“We will be able to look at the I&I (Inflow and Infiltration) issue that so many of you all have identified in the past,” she noted. I&I issues occur when ground water and storm water infiltrates the town’s sewer lines, which increases the amount of wastewater the Peppers Ferry Regional Waste Water Treatment Authority plant in Fairlawn must process for the town – causing additional sewer expense.

Burcham said there are funds available to be used to assist small businesses, much as the town did with the Cares Act funds earlier. She noted the town would be looking to assist tourism related activities as well, and, “we’re looking to see what constitutes tourism for our community.”

“I’m hoping things like playground equipment might be interpreted that way,” she added.

“We’re spending a lot of time on Zoom meetings and reading reams of paper on regulations.

“We have a couple years to use this money and actually this is the first of two appropriations. We’ll receive a second one of the same amount about this time next year,” Burcham told council.

“We’re not in a rush to spend it all at once. We want to be very thoughtful about how to spend it to put our community in the best position for the future.”

Burcham said there is “strict accounting and reporting that will be required and justification for each project as we go forward.”

Councilman Greg East suggested some of the funds might be used to mitigate the flooding of Peak Creek. Burcham responded that the flooding issue is being looked at as well.

She said there are certain items that she has already given the go-ahead to order due to the long lead-time for some of them. One, she said, was the replacement of the remaining two filters in the town’s water plant. The town has already replaced two of the filters, but Burcham said replacing the remaining two filters, which council has discussed, “to me this is a no-brainer.”

She said staff would also be looking at the town’s capital budget for things to spend the Rescue Plan money for rather than local capital funds.

She said a list of possible uses for the funds would be presented to council in the future, with possibly a partial list being presented at the council’s work session July 20.

Burcham also said she is looking at the possibility of an electric charging station which could potentially be a tourist attraction in bringing people off the interstate.

“People who have electric vehicles often times have services that tell them where those charging stations are. If we could draw people off the interstate to come visit our community for the first time, they could park their car and walk around. That to me is a tourism opportunity,” Burcham said.

The Virginia Department of Transportation’s traffic information website currently lists locations and other details for alternate fuel stations for travelers.

“We need to be open as to what our thoughts are [to use the money], but you [council] will have ideas as well,” she said.

Councilman Brooks Dawson mentioned the “problem no one could afford to fix,” in the town’s aging water and sewer lines.

Burcham noted there is equipment available that the town hasn’t been able to afford in the past that can detect not only I&I problems, but also water leaks. She said the I&I problem must be fixed by replacing old water and sewer lines.